AMHERST, Mass. - When Charley Molnar arrived at the University of Massachusetts, the football team had a major depth problem. Molnar scrambled and quickly filled UMass' roster with transfers, walk-ons and the fruits of Signing Day 2012.
UMass' Blake Lucas is ready for his second season as the team's placekicker/Andy Heller for the Maroon Musket
When the dust settled, there were still major concerns at placekicker. Molnar, adamant about not having numerous scholarship kickers on the team, had an open audition. Seven guys tried out, including incumbent Brendon Levengood, and deep into fall camp the position was still up for grabs.
Blake Lucas, then a true freshman walk-on from Georgia, separated himself from the pack.
Entering his second season as UMass' field goal kicker, Lucas said he feels a lot more confident at the position. He spent most of the summer “trying to get stronger and faster” and, of course, kicking.
“In high school, between my freshman and sophomore year, my kicking jumped up big time. This year I feel the same way. My kicking just got a lot better, and my coaches said the same thing,” Lucas said. “The biggest focus is accuracy, but I also have to pay attention to height and distance.”
While Lucas has a season under his belt, he still needs more in-game experience. During the 2012 campaign, Lucas only attempted eight field goals and hit seven. He also never quite found himself in a pressure-filled situation, as the Minutemen were typically far behind. Lucas didn't get to show off his leg strength, either: He never attempted a field goal longer than 40 yards.
Despite all that, Molnar has complete confidence in his kicker.
“He's solid. He'll be in the top half the MAC. Very rarely does he miss during practice. He missed one or two the first day (of fall camp), and I'm not sure if I've seen him miss since then. If you ever get the chance to talk to him, he's a flat-liner,” Molnar said, motioning a steady, horizontal line with his left hand. “He never gets too high, he never gets too low, and he's the same way after every kick. He goes into each and every practice the same way.”
Lucas, who at 5-foot-8 and 166 pounds is easily one of the smaller guys on the team, exudes a quiet confidence when discussing his ability. He said he's “100 percent” from 40 yards or in and “can absolutely” hit a 60 yarder.
He added that he wants more opportunities this year.
“I'm hoping to get some more field goals in. After I start kicking field goals, that's when I start to get confident out there. I'm hoping for at least 18 to 20 field goals this year,” he said.
Lucas learned a lot from last year's competition and continues to improve while working with the special teams unit. He said he's close with holder Jeff Strait, punter Colter Johnson, longsnapper Vance Barton and Levengood, who, with the strongest leg on the team, handles kickoffs.
He was also quick to praise newcomers Logan Laurent and Markus Colin. Laurent kicks and punts but projects to be a punter, while Colin is a placekicker who can “really boot the ball” according to Molnar. He added that the new competition will be good for Lucas.
“Blake can't just sit there. He has to compete every day, but he certainly has the edge right now,” he said. “He's a competitive young man, and when he had the chance to win the job last year, I thought he really bore down, so I don't think pressure bothers him too much.”
It seems as though Molnar is onto something.
“It's definitely more competition, but at this point last year we had seven kickers come out here, and that was a pretty serious competition,” Lucas said. “I'm ready to go. Competition takes us to the next level. If you ask what made Colter (Johnson) better, he'll tell you that it was competing with Jeff (Strait), and that works for me, too.”